UNIFYING THE DIVIDE: Wilmington’s Gathering for Peace welcomes open-minded responses to political and civil unrest

lot of folks are still recovering from November’s election results—not to mention the awkward divide experienced during Thanksgiving family gatherings across the nation. While collectively catching our breath from the overindulgence of Grandma’s stuffing and passionate rhetoric, ILM resident Lauren Krouse has been focused on finding peace during such civil and political unrest.

LONG-TERM IMPACT: Wilmington’s Gathering for Peace organizers want lasting dialogue to build bridges between a divided community and country. Photo by Tom Dorgan, Wilmington Repeal HB2 Rally, May 2016.
LONG-TERM IMPACT: Wilmington’s Gathering for Peace organizers want lasting dialogue to build bridges between a divided community and country. Photo by Tom Dorgan, Wilmington Repeal HB2 Rally, May 2016.

“[My family and I] tried to reach across the aisle,” she tells, “but we just couldn’t find common ground or convince either that the other was right. It was frustrating and devastating.”

Instead of allowing it to destroy a holiday of giving thanks, Krouse reacted to the fear, despair and hate surrounding the election in a meaningful and productive way. She began planning a day of peace.

“Everyone is responding in their own ways but I responded with a manic need to take action,” Krouse tells. She took to Facebook soon after Nov. 9, along with her friend and colleague Suzzanna Matthews-Amanzio. Together, they co-organized Wilmington’s Gathering for Peace at Maides Park, to be held Saturday, December 3.

The event is to help people communicate and somehow move dialogue forward between—but not limited to—those who voted for Trump and those who didn’t. Obstacles for doing so, Krouse says, include one-sided news sources, or “clickbait,” and assumptions that people who voted for a Trump presidency believe in all of his crass rhetoric or stand with white-nationalist supporters.

“It is easy to demonize Trump supporters because they either agree with his rhetoric, actions and policies against Mexicans, Muslims, and other groups … or because they chose to ignore it and vote for him anyway,” Krouse says. “But I also believe we have to try to listen to more complicated Trump supporters to understand why they made their decision. The only way forward is for well-meaning people to stop speaking over each other and simply listen.”

Folks like Krouse aren’t just concerned by how the president-elect’s platform alienated and even attacked U.S. minorities, women, LGBTQ citizens, and press, but also hate speech and crimes that came of it followed. Such emboldened bigotry has already appeared in the Port City with UNCW professor Mike Adams, who’s currently under fire for publicly criticizing a UNCW student by name in the article, “A ‘Queer Muslim’ Jihad?” which he wrote for The Daily Wire. While some say Adams’ article and his proceeding social-media commentary about the issue are protected by his right to free speech, others like Krouse call it harassment and demand his dismissal.

“I think it’s really important to note that bigotry exists at all levels of society, and in less obvious but just as harmful ways,” Krouse continues. “I have witnessed shocking bigotry in conversations with people who I had no idea held such close-minded views, and who were wholly unwilling to consider the huge girth of evidence that marginalized people being attacked. When people won’t even listen to pure logic or refuse to empathize with fellow human beings, I worry.”

There also has been a lot of talk about privilege during this time. Krouse admits she also addresses it as a white woman. Yet, the topic is a complex and tricky one to tackle with folks who don’t understand or even see it.

“It’s not just about race, either,” she explains. “Privilege is affected by all sorts of things—like where you live, how much money you make, your sex and gender, etc. I’m not an expert on privilege, but I think education and exposure are a good place to start.”

Originally dubbed a “march,” Krouse decided “Gathering for Peace” had more potential for long-term change rather than short-term reactions to current injustices and social divides cracking through communities. It will go beyond one election to provide education and resources for current and future involvement.

“We are in the process of reaching out to as many community groups and nonprofits as possible to provide Wilmingtonians with chances to get more involved with the causes they care most about,” Krouse explains. “It’s easy to get fired up and post articles and petitions on Facebook, but what’s even more important is stepping up and taking real action all year long.”

Some organizations and causes represented will be Black Lives Matter, Cape Fear Equality, and Working Films among others. Krouse and company have been working with YWCA’s Kelly Rae Williams, trans activist TR Nunley and Denny Best of the Wilmington Progressive Coalition. “Lynn Heritage, leader of Grandmothers for Peace, has been a mentor to me,” Krouse continues. “She has been an amazing resource for information, inspiration and encouragement. I can’t thank her enough. This list doesn’t begin to scratch the surface, though. So many people have reached out, and it has given me so much hope.”

Wilmington’s Gathering for Peace welcomes participants who can look beyond liberal and conservative sides. Regardless of religion or political beliefs, Krouse believes most people share a common goal of peace.

“Here’s the fact of the matter: People who are interested in listening to each other and finding connection will go,” Krouse says. “I’m an independent. My political views are more complicated than liberal or conservative, and I think most people’s are. We’ve got to kill this false dichotomy and find ways to connect. This isn’t always possible, but I think it’s more possible than a lot of Americans think right now. The key is listening. Already, I have had both conservatives and independents reach out to me, excited about the event.”

Folks who come out to Wilmington’s Gathering for Peace this Saturday will hear from speakers, poets, musicians, and other community members will promote unity and community outreach from their various platforms and mediums. As well there will be tables for citizens interested in learning more about local community outreach, activism, volunteer organizations, and other opportunities for engagement. Attendees may also bring signs and banners to promote peace. Likewise, food and beverage vendors, along with artists, will set up shop to sell services and goods. There will also be a silent art auction from which 100 percent of proceeds will go to the YWCA.

“And, of course, we’ll have lots of activities for the kids,” Krouse notes.

For more details and updates on Wilmington’s Gathering for Peace, visit the event page on Facebook.

Wilmington’s Gathering for Peace
Saturday, December 3
2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Maides Park
1101 Manly Ave.

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